Amid citizens’ anger about White House concert, educational purposes prevail

*Check out this video of the “Memphis Soul” concert on April 9, hosted by President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama at the White House.

By Lanie Rivera
Editor

Despite devastating budget cuts from the sequestration, the White House decided that their show must go on; the Obamas hosted a “Memphis Soul” concert, the 10th installation of the concert series “In Performance at the White House” on Tuesday, April 9.

While an article by Fox News cited that many Americans scoffed at the performance, angry that the exclusive star-studded show remained on schedule amid federal cuts, I have read other articles about the concert that lead me to believe this frustration is unjustified.

It seems that the event’s thoughtful purpose, private funding and student workshop (held before the concert) conflict with accusations that the first couple has become selfish, thoughtlessly spending federal funds on lavish parties while the closing the White House to the public.

The concert was an informative event that encouraged and promoted community through arts participation and appreciation; it was not a show that merely entertained the Obamas and their chosen guests.

An article by CBS quoted President Barack Obama’s comments regarding the importance of soul music:

And that was the spirit of their music — the sound of Soulsville, U.S.A., a music that, at its core, is about the pain of being alone, the power of human connection, and the importance of treating each other right … After all, this is the music that asked us to try a little tenderness …

And the Obamas’ said they hoped this Memphis Soul music event would inspire connection and respect, too. But their communal and educational intentions were not praised, or even recognized, by most citizens. Instead, many complained that federal dollars were being used for the concert.

One reader, under the name “Dry Chardonnay,” commented on the Fox News article about the concert to express frustration about U.S. spending. The commentator added that the concert was unwarranted amid a time of budget cutbacks:

When the furlough strikes in May, I will be one of the over 750,000 employees who will lose 20 [percent] of their paycheck … for goodness sakes stop throwing concerts, unless it is a fundraiser to pay down the national debt!

But according to an article posted on Red Alert Politics, the concert was funded by outside sources. “… these concerts are partially funded by private and corporate donations, [and] most of the costs are covered by PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting,” wrote Laura Byrne, a writer for Red Alert Politics.

Additionally, the Fox News article reported that some federal employees have made several cries against the “First Couple’s” White House events because the “people’s house” was closed to the public, yet high-profile celebrities were invited to attend the concert.

Outcries also targeted the White House’s suspension of public tours to cut back on security spending, yet its doors still opened for an event that surely required a paid Secret Service security staff, according to Fox News:

Republican lawmakers ripped the administration for its decision to cancel White House tours, which affected school groups and others who had made spring plans to visit.

Jon Hart, a Republican spokesman for Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), was one of these critics.

Although he did not specifically comment on the concert, he did bash the Obamas for discontinuing the tours, the Washington Post reported:

They can tour the country on the taxpayer’s dime but can’t allow taxpayers to tour the White House?  Seriously?

Contrarily, First Lady Michelle Obama hosted “The History of Memphis Soul,” an interactive, educational event for 120 middle and high schoolers across the country on April 9.

The workshop encouraged budding musicians and featured music industry legends such as Sam Moore, Mavis Staples, Justin Timberlake, Charlie Musselwhite and Ben Harper.

According to the CBS article, the First Lady offered words of support and advice to the students:

At the workshop, Mrs. Obama also tried to encourage the students, including some aspiring musicians, by noting that it took years of perfecting their talent for the artists perched on stools in front of them to get where they are.

Not to mention the Obamas invited the public to their recent Easter Egg Roll event on April 1.

While most people criticized these White House events, some did praise the Obamas for their efforts to promote education.

One Fox News reader by the name “xybann” wrote:

I am SO impressed that the first lady is going to talk to bunch of students about the history of Memphis Soul.  That is so important for young, eager minds to hear about from the most influential woman in America!

[WC: 776]

Washington, D.C. recognized as capital of contemporary art

Multiverse, a light sculpture by Leo Villareal featuring over 21,000 custom-programmed LED nodes, located between the National Gallery of Art's East and West Buildings, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. (Photo credit: Wikipedia) As seen on Forbes.

Multiverse, a light sculpture by Leo Villareal (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Over the past decade the art community in D.C. has worked hard to build its own artist reputation. This week Forbes declared D.C. as the capital of contemporary art.

Forbes recognized the ConnerSmith Gallery as a driving force that pushed the local art community into success. ConnerSmith Gallery views contemporary art as a “primary business objective” for the local community.

The gallery is owned by Leigh Conner and Jamie Smith. Click here for the full version of a Forbes interview with the art gallery owners as they discuss their business’ growth strategy and their vision for the local art community.

Yo-Yo Ma plans to save the arts

Classical musician Yo-Yo Ma delivered the Nancy Hank Lecture on Art and Public Policy at the Kennedy Center on Monday night.

Yo-Yo Ma is self described as a “venture culturalist” and made a performance out of his speech, entitled “Art for Life’s Sake,” WRTI Classic and Jazz radio reported.

Ma focused on the ideas of diversity and education, and made the claim that societies are powered by politics, economics and culture. He said that art is essential to the strength of culture and that art equips students with four necessary skills for life in the 21st century; collaboration, flexibility, imagination and innovation.

His lecture lasted an hour and a half on Monday night.

Read the full story here.

Music Man concerned about community

Photo courtesy of the Washington Post.

Photo courtesy of the Washington Post.

By Lanie Rivera
Editor

Our increasingly technology-obsessed society seems to encourage individualistic tendencies — we often prefer to surf Facebook or Twitter while on our morning bus commute rather than converse with the man sitting next to us.

We could all use a little glue to pull us back together.

And that is George Whitlow’s plight.

Dubbed as D.C.’s “music man,” Whitlow can be heard from blocks away as he rides his “boombox bike” through the busy District streets near Howard University. He plays signature anthems, such as Chuck Brown’s “Bustin’ Loose” or Kool & the Gang’s “Too Hot,” to encourage bonding through song, dance and laughter in the community.

An article on the Washington Post described Whitlow’s reasoning behind his mobile music machine:

His goal is to get hyper-scheduled, ambitious, uptight D.C. to get loose and listen to music — together.

Whitlow will persistently fight our “anti-social” culture, as he calls it, one day and one ride at a time.

Read the full story on the Washington Post here.

Street artist Hanksy sneaks into Easter Egg Roll

hanksy-white-house-egg-3

Photo courtesy of Hanksy (tumblr)

By Lanie Rivera
Editor

Although it hasn’t been confirmed, evidence of the pun-loving street artist Hanksy attended President Barack Obama’s Easter Egg Roll at the White House, according to Blouin Art Info.

What evidence supports this claim?

Well, photographs of graffitied Easter eggs filled with puns have exploded across cyberspace, posted on the artist’s Tumblr and apparently confirmed by his gallery coordinator Benjamin Krause.

Photo courtesy of Hanksy (tumblr)

Photo courtesy of Hanksy (tumblr)

Some are skeptical, though, because the rumors of Hanksy’s work began to spread on April Fool’s Day. Could it be a hoax?

Well, examine the convincing photos and see if you think they’re authentic.

D.C. native and Muppets creator Jane Henson dies at 79

"Sam and Friends" characters Harry, Kermit and Sam (left to right). Photo courtesy of Muppet Wiki

“Sam and Friends” characters Harry, Kermit and Sam (left to right).
Photo courtesy of Muppet Wiki

By Lanie Rivera
Editor

Puppet aficionado Jane Henson, 79,  known as the co-creator of Muppets, died from cancer on April 3.

Henson graduated with a degree in fine arts from the District’s Catholic University, inspiring her life that “balanced a love for fine art and education with care for the imagination-powered, eclectic Muppet movement,” according to an article on NBC Washington.

She met her former husband, Jim, at a puppetry class at the University of Maryland. During his undergraduate studies, Jim was offered a show on Washington D.C.’s WRC. The show, called “Sam and Friends,” was co-performed and co-created by Jane.

Kermit was a recurring character on the “Sam and Friends,” but he was not yet a frog.

This show helped form the large audience for the Muppets. Jane went on to further develop the Muppets through projects such as the “Muppet Show on Tour” and “Sesame Street Live,” as well as “The Art of The Muppets.”

She was even a founder of the National Puppetry Conference.

Stipends for D.C. art teachers help buy supplies

Photo by Lanie Rivera

Photo by Lanie Rivera

By Lanie Rivera
Editor

For every loss arts programs suffer, there seems to be an equal, opposing force in support of arts programs; the latest contribution was to D.C. public and charter schools’ arts initiatives, thanks to the DC Arts and Humanities Education Collaborative(DHAHEC).

On April 3, the DHAHEC partnered with Plaza Art to announce that they will offer a limited amount of free stipends for D.C. teachers to buy art supplies from Plaza Artist Materials.

D.C. public or charter school art teachers can apply for a stipend of $150 or less. The funds are meant to help implement Visual Art lessons in the classroom.

Teachers are encouraged to apply through this on-line form.

To read the full story, click here.

One Million Bones installation to speak for over a million stories

*Check out this video of a similar project (50,000 bones) in Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2011 

By Lanie Rivera
Editor

An art installation made of one million bones is scheduled to be displayed at the National Mall in June; the goal is to make a minute but powerful representation of the people who have suffered from mass genocides and atrocities across the globe.

Photo courtesy of www.kearneyhub.com

Photo courtesy of http://www.kearneyhub.com

The One Million Bones project demonstrates the strength of art as a social call to action against injustices.

The bones, created by art students and teachers of Kearney High School, Horizon Middle School, Kearney Catholic and Sumner Public School, are ceramic.

Residents of central Nebraska were invited to participate in the project on April 6 at the Museum of Nebraska Art by molding bones themselves.

To learn more about the project, visit the project’s website. Read the full article here.

Art used to merge the District’s two cities

Left: The District's famous Washington Monument, frequented by tourists. Right: a mural in Brookland, a less-visited neighborhood that has attracted visitors with its art.

Left: The District’s famous Washington Monument, frequented by tourists. Right: a mural in Brookland, a less-visited neighborhood that has attracted visitors with its art.

By Lanie Rivera
Editor

District Mayor Vincent Gray recently proposed a budget for fiscal year 2014 that would raise the public city arts budget by $2.3 million; city officials wish to invest the funds into neighborhood art projects to encourage tourists to visit under-trafficked areas of the District, according to the Washington Examiner.

I hold the belief that this infusion of funding is an attempt by Gray and other city officials to create a city with appealing aspects beyond its historical and political landmarks.

And if neighborhoods and historic landmarks were equally inviting, I would also argue that the duality of the District would intertwine. Washington, the political, wealthy city, would merge with D.C., the multigenerational residents who have a stake in the District.

Lionell Thomas, executive director of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, told the Examiner that the neighborhood projects would establish the whole District as an artistic epicenter:

People think of the Mall as the place to go for artistic activities … The new strategy creates that whole vision — the city is a vibrant and wonderful place.

And an influx of visitors in lesser-visited neighborhoods would likely promote neighborhood beautification and renovation. Neighborhood visitors would see there is more to the District than the famous statues and museums that people typically plan to visit.

Furthermore, tourism in both Washington (museums and politics) and D.C. (neighborhoods and local hangouts) would weave the two parts together. This contrast is well explained by Adam Serwer in a 2011 article titled “A City Divided,” published on the American Prospect:

Washington spills out of downtown Metro stations at 8 A.M.; D.C. huddles on crowded buses at 6 A.M. On Sundays, when Washington goes to brunch, D.C. is in church. Washington clinks glasses in bars like Local 16 in its leisure time, while D.C. sweats out its perm at dance clubs like Love or DC Star. Washington has health-insurance benefits, but D.C. is paying out of pocket …

Although this duality has existed for quite a while, these two parts of the District have, arguably, already begun to meld together within the past few years, but not equally — some residents believe Washington has overshadowed D.C.

In his 2013 State of the District Address (according to the prepared text), Gray said that the District is becoming a higher class area. The city was previously recognized for its cultural and economic diversity; the career-focused transplants from all over the country mingled with the District locals whose families had grown up in the area for generations.

Now, though, Gray noted that he was afraid the city was overwhelmingly inhabited by residents with white collar careers:

We once worried about the District becoming a city of “haves” and “have-nots.”  But now we are increasingly in danger of becoming a city of only “haves.”

Some District natives have noticed the same shift.

NY Times writer Latoya Peterson, a District resident, shared her experience with the city’s divide that confirmed Gray’s worry. She wrote that the political bustle of Washington is taking over D.C. in her January 2013 op-ed piece:

My block today looks completely different from the way it did when I moved in just a few years ago. Italian wine bars and trendy street food arrived, bringing a diversity-lite mix of patrons. Washington is taking over, yet vestiges of D.C. remain.

Under-trafficked neighborhoods may be considered these “vestiges.” If tourists were drawn into local neighborhoods, I argue that central Washington and hidden D.C. would be equally celebrated. Art installations, as suggested by city officials, would be one method to entice visitors into neighborhoods and promote equality among the two faces of the city.

Although I have not read any residents’ reactions to this proposition, many officials have endorsed the idea. At-large Councilman David Grosso told the Examiner that an artistic landmark would create a well-rounded city, adding a creative, authentic flare to a predominantly federal city:

Just like Chicago has “The Bean” (officially titled Cloud Gate), a shiny, odd-looking, permanent fixture of Millennium Park that draws flocks of gaping onlookers, the District needs its own distinctive centerpiece, [Grosso] reasons – not another obelisk for a former president.

Grosso and others think that the District is not a large player in the arts scene. These city officials support Gray’s decision to fund the arts because most big cities have large art pieces that attract visitors.

Jennifer Cover Payne, head of the Cultural Alliance of Greater Washington, told the Examiner that she believes the Gray’s proposition is a great sign following years of an artistic drought.

” ‘When there was an downturn in the economy, the arts downturned even more,’ she said. ‘Now … D.C. is ready for a renaissance.’ “

[WC: 777]

National Gallery of Art promotes self-guided tours with new mobile app

Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art

Image courtesy of the National Gallery of Art

By Lanie Rivera
Editor

The National Gallery of Art (NGA) encourages visitors to be their own tour guides.

NGA released “Your Art,” its new, free app for the iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch last week.

The app allows visitors to explore the galleries through two self-guided tours. It also keeps consumers up to date with a list of events and exhibitions, images of various works housed at the museum, as well as visitor information.

And if you haven’t jumped onto the Apple bandwagon, NGA allows visitors to borrow one of 20 iPod Touches from the West Building Audio Tour Desk.

For more information, read this article by the Washington City Paper.